Excelling in difficult times: Our Researchers of the Year for 2020

2020 was a difficult year for all. Restricted access to work environments, disruption to supply chains, mental health impacts and uncertainty of the future, all threatened to significantly impede research activities. Despite this, our researchers have remained committed to continuing their valuable work and have not only met with these challenges but have excelled in their positive attitude and willingness to adapt.

BiOrbic has recently recognised these achievements through its ‘Researcher of the Year’ awards. Staff were asked to nominate outstanding members of the centre in two categories; PhD students and Post-Docs and the winners were announced by centre Director, Prof Kevin O’Connor at the centre’s end of year social event.

The winners selected were PhD student Alejandro Vergara and Post-Doc Michelle Rich.

Alejandro is working for the EU LIFE Farm4More project, which focuses on maximizing animal performance while mitigating the climate change impacts of the dairy farming industry. He is also an integral part of ‘Farm Zero C’, BiOrbic’s flagship project that aims to produce the world’s first carbon neutral dairy farm.

Alejandro was nominated due to his ‘team spirit’ and numberous contributions to the centre community in the form of social events, equality and diversity work and his efforts to engage with the public. He has continually demonstrated his commitment to the centre, attending meetings at 4AM while he was abroad in South America. One nominator stated, “Alejandro has only been in Ireland one year but has become a friend to all in BiOrbic.

Commenting on receiving the Award Alejandro said: “It was definitely a great honour. Upon receiving the award the biggest feeling I had was gratitude. I think that getting the award was the result of the hard and good work I did in the year and that would have been impossible without the support, mentorship, and trust of both the Farm4More and FarmZeroC project.

Meanwhile, Michelle Rich works under BiOrbic’s Conversion platform. Her research uses synthetic and systems biology to develop a microbial strain that can produce value added products from dairy waste streams. She has also made significant contributions to public engagement in the past, representing BiOrbic at UCD festival and the National Ploughing Championships.

Those nominating Michelle mentioned her ‘flexibility’ and ‘resilience’, keeping projects ahead of schedule despite the pandemic. She was able to do this by remaining focused, being a regular, passionate presence at platform meetings and strengthening the cohesion of the centre. One nominator stated, “Michelle contributed to the Centre community by excelling in her research tasks and more importantly going for the extra mile in problem-solving the challenges she faced.

Michelle received her award with the comment: “I am thrilled and honoured to be awarded the 2020 Researcher of the Year award. Thanks to my peers, mentors and other members of BiOrbic for their continuing support and guidance, and to the Centre and SFI for funding support. Even in the face of unexpected challenges this past year from the pandemic, it was always a delight to participate in the enjoyable, collaborative environment provided by BiOrbic to facilitate learning and discussion about various different aspects of the bioeconomy.

Announcing the award, Professor Kevin O’Connor said, “These awards recognise the talent we have in BiOrbic and their dedication to achieving success for their projects. Both Alejandro and Michelle have collaborated successfully across the centre with academic and industry partners and this collaborative mentally combined with their can do attitude is critical to the success of BiOrbic.

Pictured: PhD student winner, Alejandro Vergara and Post-Doc winner, Michelle Rich.